FIRE UP YOUR FICTION
An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Stories
Fire up Your Fiction (formerly titled Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power) has won three awards to date: a Silver Medal in the Florida Authors & Publishers President’s Book Awards for 2013, a Silver Medal in the Readers’ Favorite Awards for 2014, and an Honorable Mention in the Writer’s Digest Self-Published E-Book Awards for 2013. It’s also a finalist in both the Foreword Reviews IndieFab Book Awards and the National Indie Excellence Awards.
“This book is packed with good advice on how to spot and fix weaknesses in your fiction writing. It summarizes the combined wisdom of the last century or so of fiction teachers into one handy volume.”
~ Randy Ingermanson, bestselling author of Writing Fiction for Dummies
“A handy checklist and self-editing guide that will get any fiction writer to a stronger, well-told tale.”
~James Scott Bell, bestselling author of Revision & Self-Editing, Plot & Structure, and The Art of War for Writers
“What a wonderful resource for writers at any stage of their career! I wish I had this book when I first started writing. … I can’t think of anything important that you haven’t addressed succinctly and clearly. … This should be on the booklist for Master’s Programs in Writing for Publication. … You must be a wonderful editor to be able to write such a readable, but comprehensive book.”
~ Judge, Writer’s Digest Self-Published e-Book Awards, Jan. 2014
“Jodie Renner’s FIRE UP YOUR FICTION is a handy manual for writers looking to make the biggest impact with their craft. …
“FIRE UP YOUR FICTION is the Strunk and White for writers who want to be not just mere storytellers but master story-compellers.”
~ Judge, IndieReader Discovery Awards
REVISE YOUR FICTION TO TAKE IT UP A NOTCH
Fiction writers – if you’re looking to hone your style, avoid style gaffes, bring your scenes to life, tighten up your writing, pick up the pace, and develop a more authentic, appealing voice, this book is for you.
You’ll get clear, concrete advice, with examples, for:
- Writing a compelling opening
- Avoiding amateurish style blunders
- Showing instead of telling
- Streamlining your writing
- Picking up the pace
- Fixing awkward phrasing
- Writing sentences that flow
- Showing character emotions and reactions
- Avoiding info dumps
- Choosing words that nail it
- Breaking formal writing habits
- Creating tense action scenes
- Writing natural-sounding dialogue
- Finding your authentic voice
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction – What Will This Book Do For You?
PART I – WRITE TO ENGAGE
Chapter 1: Zoom Out First – Amp up, Revise, or Cut Any Scenes That Don’t Zing
Chapter 2: Your First Pages are Critical
- Dos & Don’ts for an Opening That Hooks Readers In
Chapter 3: Show, Don’t Tell
Chapter 4: Bring Your Characters to Life by
Showing Their Reactions
Chapter 5: Show Emotions, But Don’t be Melodramatic
Chapter 6: Stimulus & Response – Phrasing for Immediacy
- State Cause before Effect, Action before Reaction
Chapter 7: It’s a Story, Not an Instruction Manual!
- Don’t Get too Technical
- Renegade Body Parts
- Don’t Have Eyes Doing Weird Things
Chapter 8: Info Dumps, Lectures, & Other Author Intrusions
- Info Dumps
- Too Much Backstory
- Dumping into Dialogue – AYKB
Chapter 9: Need to Impart Factual Info? Use Lots of Attitude!
- Turning Impersonal Info into Compelling Copy
Chapter 10: Writing Tense Action Scenes
- Tips and Before-and-After Examples
Chapter 11: Voice – That Elusive but Critical Element
PART II – TIGHTEN UP YOUR STORY AND WRITING
Chapter 12: How to Slash Your Word Count by 20–50%
…without losing any of the good stuff!
Chapter 13: Don’t Insult Your Readers by Overexplaining
- One plus One Equals a Half
- Show, Don’t Tell
Chapter 14: Shed Those Wordy Habits & Cut to the Chase
- Quick Tips for Decluttering
- Manage those Modifiers
- Smooth out Clunky Phrasing
Chapter 15: Condense Clusters of Words & Reject Redundancies
- Before-and-After Examples
Chapter 16: Break Those Formal Writing Habits
- Avoid Overly Correct, Convoluted Sentences
- Don’t Drown Your Readers in Details
- Condense Long-Winded Dialogue
Chapter 17: Dangling Participles, Misplaced Modifiers,
& Other Awkward Constructions
- Logistical Impossibilities
- Dangling Participles
- Misplaced Modifiers
PART III – REVISE FOR CLARITY, FLOW & PACING
Chapter 18: Create Sentences That Flow
Chapter 19: Pick up the Pace for a Real Page-Turner
Chapter 20: Pacing for Power – Expand the Moment to Increase
Tension & Suspense
PART IV – FIND FRESH, VIBRANT WORDS
Chapter 21: Choose Words That Nail It
- People in Motion
- Words for “Walked”
- Replacements for “Run”
- Different ways of Looking
Chapter 22: Cut Those Clichés – Most of the Time
PART V – REPRODUCE AUTHENTIC DIALOGUE & THOUGHTS
Chapter 23: Dialogue That’s Real and Riveting
- Dialogue Needs Tension
- Loosen up the Language
- Keep it Real!
- Everybody Speaks Differently
Chapter 24: Dialogue Turn-Offs
- Don’t Mangle Characters’ Speech
- Don’t Try to Keep up with the Latest Slang
- Don’t Overdo the Profanities
- Don’t Reproduce Actual Conversations
Chapter 25: Dialogue Nuts & Bolts
- Punctuation, Capitalization, etc.
Chapter 26: Expressing Thought-Reactions
- Direct Thoughts and Indirect Thoughts
PART VI – WRAP-UP
Chapter 27: Style Blunders That Confuse, Annoy
or Bore Your Readers
You Be the Editor
Some Excellent Resources for Fiction Writers
Appendix – Scene Outline Form
Excerpts from Some of the Many 5-Star Reviews on Amazon for Fire up Your Fiction (formerly titled Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power):
“Fire up Your Fiction (Style that Sizzles) is a book every fiction writer needs to have. I’ve read dozens of writing craft books, and this one is a gem. Jodie Renner addresses all the crucial issues and components in a novel and shows with great right-and-wrong examples how to trim and tighten your writing. […] As a professional novelist, copyeditor, and writing coach, I can honestly say this comprehensive book covers everything a writer at any level needs to make a novel sizzle.”
~ Susanne (C.S.) Lakin, author and editor
“After reading Fire up Your Fiction: An Editor’s Guide, I want author Jodie Renner on my writing ‘Dream Team’!
“This book inspired a complete manuscript rewrite using Jodie’s professional perspective. I learned volumes about writing and myself in this concise editor’s guide.”
~ Mark Wayne Adams, President, Florida Authors and Publishers Association, Oct. 9, 2014
“This book packs in a wealth of tested how-to advice. Clearly, the author has a depth of personal experience in the writing craft. As a university tutor in fiction writing, I now recommend it to all my students. […] It’s written for the serious writer and goes quickly to the heart of what works, with plenty of real-world examples. Highly recommended.”
~ Nigel J. Robinson, England
“Ms. Renner is a treasure chest, her advice all precious coins and gems. Thank you!
“What I love most about her books is that she doesn’t simply tell you how to make your work better, she SHOWS you how to make your work better, using small examples and anecdotes that pack enough energy to bypass your lazy conscious self and slam directly into your subconscious where all the real work is done on any a manuscript.
“The book is nicely designed, and each chapter has plenty of short, punchy sections set off with bold headings. Makes it very easy to read. You can stop in for a short visit, mine for a few nuggets of gold, and leave. Repeat as necessary.
“Even after all these years in the book publishing biz, I am happy to say that I am still learning and improving, and Ms Renner’s books are my absolute favorite resources and learning tools. I only wish I’d found her years ago!
“Her books are better than my previous longtime favorite, The Art of Fiction by John Gardner, although his guide should be in your library, too.
“If you’re a writer, young and starting your career, or older and in the middle of it, you owe it to yourself and your artwork to read Ms. Renner’s books. That’s the best advice I can give anyone who writes fiction. Heck, even if you write nonfiction, buy her books!”
~ William D. Garner, AdagioPress
“Jodie Renner’s award-winning Fire up Your Fiction (Style that Sizzles & Pacing for Power) packs a knock-out punch in its 170 jewel-laden pages. This clearly written, access-friendly work provides the distilled wisdom of Jodie and multiple other fiction-writing gurus (James Scott Bell, Donald Maass, Sol Stein – just to name a few).
“Sizzles is the tightest and most useful collection of fiction writing tips and guidelines I have found. Whether you are starting your first book or deep in revision of your tenth, you will love this incredibly effective writing tool.
“I eagerly recommend this book. You will be pleased.”
~ Tom Combs, MD
“… this volume is packed with plenty of digestible literary protein that will feed writers and make them eager for action.[…] Packed with information, accurate and inspiring, Fire up Your Fiction: An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Stories will help you transform your fiction into a more marketable product.”
~ Bil Howard, Reviewer for Readers’ Favorite, 2014
“Jodie Renner has achieved a remarkable feat here – she’s distilled everything a fiction writer needs to know to draft edgy, compelling fiction into a short and sweet book. And she’s done it by excluding all the fluff other craft books use as filler. […] What’s exceptionally useful is that the book is essentially a micro-manual for quick, easy-to-learn techniques to pare down your writing and make it lean and mean.
“Ms. Renner is the queen of thrillers and other crime fiction, but the invaluable advice provided here is applicable to anything you write, including non-fiction.”
“Great news for fiction writers! Jodie Renner’s Style That Sizzles has arrived! Before Jodie, self-editing was painful. After reading and using this book, I found it much easier – even fun – to go through my manuscripts and take out the trash. Her examples of her own editing are what did the trick for me, making her book the most useful writing guide I have run across yet. […] If you dream of writing a book that sells, buy this one to get you there faster!”
~ Kayak Writer
“There are many ‘how to write fiction’ books out there, but this is the only one I need for writing and editing my fiction. I feel everything I need to know to make my writing tight and compelling, I’ve found in this nice, compact, repository of great advice. […] Maybe it’s because she’s an actual editor rather than another writer who has learned through the pitfalls of writing?
“The examples are clear and the writing is precise. It’s exactly the kind of information I needed in a ‘how to’ book, and the knowledge that this author edits for a living makes this purchase well worth it to me.”
~ Diane Carlisle
Chapter 11 – VOICE: THAT ELUSIVE BUT CRITICAL INGREDIENTOF COMPELLING FICTION
Voice – what is it exactly?
Literary agents and acquiring editors always say they’re looking for fiction with a compelling, unique, fresh, natural voice. Then when asked to define it, they hum and haw a bit, searching for the right words to try to capture what they mean by a voice that appeals to readers and makes them want to keep reading.
From what I’ve gathered from my varied reading and workshops, the ideal “voice” is that natural, open, appealing, charismatic tone and style that draws us in and makes us feel like we know the characters well – and want to get to know them better!
HOW CAN WE DEVELOP AN APPEALING VOICE?
These tips, a mix of advice from others and my own ideas, will be helpful to both fiction and nonfiction writers who are still in the process of finding their voice or fine-tuning it to make it more relaxed, powerful and appealing.
~ Don’t lecture your readers.
As Bruce DeSilva said in his workshop on this topic at Craftfest 2012, many aspiring authors need to first free themselves from the constraints of their more formal, correct writing background, especially if it includes graduate degrees and a lot of legal, academic or business writing. So shake yourself loose of all those constraints and find your more casual, accessible, appealing inner voice. How do you do that?
~ Write in a clear, direct way.
Forget all those long, convoluted sentences and pretentious words and learn to write in a clear, direct, accessible, casual style that evokes the senses and appeals to the emotions. Streamline your writing!
~ Write to one person.
To help develop an intimacy with your readership and a conversational tone, create or choose one single person you’re writing to, who is warm, friendly, open to your ideas, interested, and intelligent.
DeSilva suggests choosing a close friend or family member to write to, but personally, I advise against writing to someone in your inner circle, as you might end up skipping over a lot of details and points that need to be there for other readers who don’t share your background, cultural environment, and basic frames of reference.
So I suggest creating an ideal reader. Write a brief description of their age, gender, background, home and work situation, personality, and interests (which of course include reading your kind of writing!). Get to know them a bit by giving them some positive attributes that will help you feel comfortable and open with them. Then target your writing to this person. Relax and let the real you come through.
~ Read and imitate writers whose voice you really enjoy.
Don’t copy their words verbatim, of course, but immerse yourself in their story world, told in their unique voice. Read their books aloud to really internalize the rhythm of their language, the phrasing and expressions and word choices that appeal to you so much. Then of course adapt the cadence and rhythm and attitudes and vocabulary to your own situation.
~ Write a chapter in first person, then change it to third person.
One author whose voice I love is Janet Evanovich, whose spunky, quirky heroine, Stephanie Plum, narrates her story in first-person point of view. But it’s hard to write first-person well, and it can be limiting, as you’re confined to scenes where this character is present. Also, first-person isn’t always the best choice for, say, a thriller, as you want other viewpoints in there, too, notably that of the antagonist.
But try writing several pages or a chapter or two in first-person (“I”), to develop your main character’s unique voice, then just go back and rewrite them in third person (he/she), with as few other changes as possible.
~ Read your story out loud to test its authenticity and easy flow.
As DeSilva says, your writing should have the rhythm and comfortable familiarity of spoken language. If it doesn’t flow easily, go in and streamline the language to take out the convoluted sentences, clunky phrasing, and fancy-shmancy words. Or hire a trusted writer friend or reputable freelance editor to go through it for you to take out anything that sounds too formal, wordy, or erudite.
~ Write in deep point of view or close third.
This means the story is unfolding mainly through the thoughts and reactions and emotions and attitudes of your protagonist. Even descriptions of your setting should be filtered through your protagonist’s (or other viewpoint character’s) preferences, views, and mood. This ensures that your whole novel has a great, unique voice, not just the dialogue.See my blog posts, POV 101, POV 102&POV 103, at The Writer’s Forensics Blog.
~ Give each character his or her own voice.
When you’re writing dialogue, each character should sound different, with their own unique speech patterns, word choices, and slang or pet expressions, based on their milieu, upbringing, education, and personality. Listen in on all kinds of conversations, both in real life and on TV and in movies.
Develop an ear for how different people speak. To improve the idiosyncratic speech of a character in your novel, try journaling in their voice, in first person. Just write freely, using lots of attitude! Eventually, you’ll get into their rhythm and find the words that seem to suit them best.
So break free from the constraints of your background, education, and any more formal work-related writing, and write the story only you can write, with your unique experiences and personality, in your own direct, open, interesting voice. Don’t hold back – reveal yourself.